30 December 2016

On Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel

"And the gentiles shall come to thy light."

During that last century, my brother's nine-year-old friend tried to art-shame me in front of his friends while they were putting on boots to trudge out into the joy of snow in South Jersey as I played Messiah on vinyl. He said, "He's listening to opera!" I corrected, snippily: "It's an oratorio."

Every year, at Christmastide and Eastertide, we dust off this score and play the piece: Messiah by Georg Friedrich Händel and Charles Jennens: one of the staggering works of western civilization. 

One cannot comprehend its strange scope and power but only try to humbly accept its knowledge, pleasure, and art. And partly why it is so is because a German composer, living in England, set a King James Version biblical text, curated by Jennens along with items from The Book of Common Prayer, which is almost devoid of narrative and filled with ideology, theology, and eschatological musings. It is also joyous and frightening and stupefyingly beautiful.

I sometimes wonder what is its opposite number. Is it Orff's Carmina Burana or Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel, both twentieth century works? Will we ever know? We will never know.

I prefer original score, instruments, and style as much as we can find them, but there are many gorgeous recordings of this piece. And if you ever can, go hear it live.

Do yourself a favor and reacquaint yourself with Messiah

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